Textbook. You could not have had a round of a draft play out any more predictably than the Patriot's first round last night. Staying put at 17 and drafting Nate Solder was, in my opinion a good pick, addressing a real need for the Patriots. It was however the kind of calculated vanilla pick that has been driving New England fans insane for as long as Belichick has been pulling the strings in Foxboro. I predicted that the Pats would target OL in this draft earlier this week, but as a fan, you can't help getting caught up in the hype of the draft and hoping that they will do something out of the ordinary. But we should know better.
Here are a few thoughts on last night and on the 2nd and 3rd rounds- only a few hours away:
1) Don't expect the Patriots to hold onto #33.
The trade with New Orleans was great for the Patriots in that they were able to grab a 1st round pick in 2012 (albeit a most likely late-round selection) and move back into the 2nd round this year (#56) while only costing themselves 4 spots in the short term. Having the first pick in the second round was the ultimate trump card as it is likely that whomever the Pats valued highly at the 28th spot will most likely be available at 33 should they choose to remain there. There are still a lot of talented players on the board, including a quarterback or two that might be valued high enough by another franchise to put a good offer to New England for that pick. And we all know that they would have no problem dropping 5 or 6 spots to pick up a few more picks.
2) Don't underestimate the importance of Free Agents in this offseason.
Just because nobody can sign or trade free agents right now doesn't mean they wont be doing so next week. With the issue still undecided at this point its hard to get a real handle on where New England might be able to fill needs outside of the draft. I think that by drafting Solder the Patriots have pretty much signalled the end of Matt Light's career here in New England. We should be able to get a good read on the Logan Mankins situation by the end of the night depending on when/where they move on a guard. Things are tense between Mankins and the organization but I'd like to see them work out a deal that keeps him on the Patriots as the interior anchor of their line.
For those Patriots fans hoping to see some firepower added to the Patriots already potent offense there are several big name running backs and wide receivers available in free agency this year. If passing on Mark ingram is making you crazy, try imagining Dangelo Williams taking handoffs from Tom Brady, it might help. A more likely fit, and probably a low-cost moderate-risk pickup might be Ricky Williams, who gushed over the Patriots organization last year after another defeat at the hands of Belichick and Co. There are a handful of other quality RBs out there, maybe even including Reggie Bush who is pissed that the saints traded up for Ingram, what a revenge story that would be! Still, don't get your hopes up for a big name offensive player getting signed in New England.
But what about defense? Here are a few of the big name free agents who will be available (presumably) when the lockout and negotiations get ironed out: DEs Cullen Jenkins, Marcus Spears, Shaun Ellis. LBs Tamba Hali, Lamar Woodley. These veteran players could make an impact in New England and help out a Patriot defense that is already the youngest in the league and the worst on third down.
3) Stop worrying and love the mid-round draft pick.
We won't have to wait long to see what the Pats do with #33, but I think their next targets are going to be another OL and a DE or OLB. The collection of 2nd and 3rd rounders they hold at the moment gives them great flexibility tonight to move up or down and should allow them to find some quality players to fill out the various needs of the club. You might end the night feeling entirely underwhelmed, and in all honesty we all probably will, but just keep in mind that the system works. The continued success of New England over the past 10 years has stood in stark contrast to the other organizations that have risen and fallen during that same time period. They aren't going to shock anyone into a heart attack with anything they do on the clock. Truthfully, its more like death by a thousand trade-downs. We're ultimately left to sort out the results over the next twelve months and separate the Chad Jacksons from the Devin McCourtys. More often then not, they're right. The organization's unflinching dedication to quantity, value, and flexibility have made them one of the most exciting teams to watch in the NFL. Unless of course, you are watching them draft.
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